The Ultimate Secret for Professional Success
Updated: Jun 26, 2021
Written by: Lucy Lu
Edited by: Eric Frasco
Where it all began
When I first graduated from London School of Economics (LSE) in 2019, like many recent graduates, I was having trouble finding a full-time job. In the first couple months of my job search, I had sent out over 200 job applications. Aside from a few interview offers which didn’t pan out, I did not hear back from most of them.
Job searching is a very difficult process for many social science graduates due to a number of reasons. Personally, it was quite a demoralizing experience and it sure has an impact on mental well-being. That’s when I ran into my closest friend from LSE and the most “together” person I know, Stella Yoh, for guidance.
Stella became my very first career mentor. She helped me with building my LinkedIn profile; she taught me how to come across as assertive in a job interview. Thanks to her I am now an expert on how to tailor the résumé and CV based on the job description!
Most importantly, Stella taught me that the most effective way of job searching is through networking!
Stella told me, from her experience, applying for a job solely from the application portal is often futile! Instead of only submitting the job application, I should also try to look up and connect with someone from the same company or same team about the position that I’m trying to apply for. A good way to do that is by sending out a cold email or LinkedIn message to invite them for a chat over the phone or over coffee.
Asking a complete stranger for career advice and coffee meetings seems like such a scary thing to me at the time. I didn’t know what to say or how to make people say yes. So Stella showed me a few messages and cold email templates that work well for her. (Want to know more on how to write a cold email? Check out this blog here)
Although I was rather skeptical of such a method at first, I decided to try it out anyway. So I sent out 10 LinkedIn messages accompanying 10 different applications. To my surprise, Stella’s teaching paid back rather quickly! Within two weeks, I got 8 responses to my cold emails, of which 5 people agreed to have a call with me, and one person actually met me in person!
From the first few calls, I realized it is not enough to just get the person you want to talk to you on the phone. The most important things are how to maximize the useful information you can gain, and transform such conversations into a professional opportunity! I also learned how to note down and track all of my networking attempts/encounters using an excel sheet, so I am able to manage my network more systematically.
From a few trials and errors, I figured out how to introduce myself in a way that leaves a good impression, how to build a more lasting relationship with my mentors, and how to politely ask for referrals for future professional opportunities. By the last one of my calls, I got an internal referral to become a project-based consultant with Freshminds London!
So, for me, the power of networking was truly magical!
During one of the class reunions with my LSE cohorts before the graduation ceremony, I noticed that many of my classmates are facing similar difficulties in a job search as I was months ago! So I have shared my networking techniques with a few of my close friends. Like magic, they all landed their dream jobs through networking and mentorship!
The RE: Project
Reflecting on our personal experience, Stella and I decided to help more social science graduates in their professional journey, so we founded the RE: Project as a peer-to-peer mentoring, networking, and professional development community for young professionals in social science and related fields.
Over the past year and a half, we have asked many of our mentors about their secret to professional success, and it’s no surprise that one of the most common answers we got was …… drum roll, please ….. NETWORKING!
Here are a few highlights of what our mentors have to say!
According to our networking Guru, Samanee Mahbub, who landed her dream job at the height of the pandemic. Samanee recommends starting the networking job search with LinkedIn and getting leads through alumni connections. To better your chances, you should contact at least 3-5 people at the company you want to apply to. In your cold email, you have to bring a specific “ask” and establish your credibility. Think to yourself - what exactly do you want, why should they want to hear from you, and what skills can you bring to the table? Interested in knowing more? Tune in at [2:46]
One of the most dynamic mentors we ever interviewed, Baiqu Gonker, told us that one of the biggest pieces of advice she would give young professionals is: “ Go out there and meet a lot of people! Because the more people you meet from different roles, the more sense you will have about what’s out there for you! You will get the benefit of tapping into the year of their experience without actually having to go spend years building what they've built.” In her interview, she also shared her secret on how to ask questions without being intimidated by someone’s professional achievement. Interested in knowing what her secret is? Find out her advice at [24:32]
We were also able to interview two recruiters Cécile and Olivia from an international development consulting firm, Tetra Tech. They told us the best way for graduates to find a job in the current climate is NETWORKING!
They said the purpose of networking is to i) find out about job opportunities, ii) learn about a company or the sector, iii) learn about possible career paths, then apply efficiently. They also mentioned recruiters like them receive dozens of messages per day and have limited capacity to respond to all, so it may be more efficient to contact other people in the organization – perhaps technical experts who work in the field you are interested in. In this interview, Cécile and Olivia went into great depth about why networking is the most effective tool and how to go about it. Want to find out about what they said? Check it out at [18:10]
Another mentor who is big on networking is Mari-Anne Chiromo, diversity and inclusion champion, and an assistant director at EY London! MAC shared about how to build network connections during a hiring freeze, and how to leverage such connections and set yourself up for future success via internal referrals schemes! MAC also talked about how to build your authentic professional brand among your networks! Want more details? Get inspired by MAC here at [06:48]
Other mentors such as Mario Ferro, Co-Founder/ CEO of Wedu, and Tedd George, Founder/ CNO of Kleos Advisory, also mentioned the importance of networking in building a resilient career in the face of adversity.
There are a lot of networking resources and opportunities offered by the RE: Project LinkedIn community as well as some of our partner organizations such as Women In international Affairs Network.
So there you have it, the ultimate Re: Project secret for professional success is NETWORKING!
Hopefully, after finishing this blog and all the content we have here on networking, you will be able to go out there and send your first cold email!
Good luck ;)
Side note: Last year the RE: Project launched a mentor-led workshop on "How to Network Systematically?" and the tickets were sold out in two days! Attendees of the workshop were very fond of their experience, thus we are considering launching another networking workshop this May! If you’re interested in attending the workshop, register your interest here!
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Why should you join the RE:Project Community?
Our mission is to re-think, re-skill, and re-imagine the future of work for those in social science-related fields, with a focus on International Affairs and Development. We believe that technological changes have radically altered the way we work by disrupting skills requirements, creating challenges for young social scientists who largely rely on soft skills. Therefore, those pursuing generalist or qualitative disciplines will have to re-skill in an oversaturated job market favoring STEM and tech.
However, most universities’ career services do not yet offer such robust training for students. At RE: Project, we seek to help millennials and Gen Zs not only find a job, but build dynamic, “future proof” careers. We offer an active platform that demystifies career possibilities, helps build professional networks, and supports re-skilling for a changing job market.
At our core, we seek to reduce growing unemployment among young social scientists in an increasingly technologised job market. Our cutting-edge content allows our community members to stay current and learn from experts at the forefront of their industry.
In the short-run, we offer tailored career support by creating curated real-life, authentic content generated by real people of the millennial generation working the industries. Practitioners with 4–7 years of experience can offer as many insights (or more!) as 50-year-old CEOs and Directors about how to break into the industry.
This way, young job seekers can interact with mentors using social media live (visit our Linkedin page, Instagram coming soon), and blog posts.
User-generated blog posts, interviews, and tips will also be very welcome.
In the long run, the ultimate goal of this platform is to grow into the forefront community for the Future of Work for social scientists.